The Sacred Valley is more than just the heartland of the Inca Empire. The valley, or Valle Sagrado, is home to spectacular ruins sprinkled across the mountain landscapes, and a mesmerizing mixture of Inca and colonial architecture, that takes you back in time. But what many people don’t realize is that it is also a vast playground for adventure sport lovers and adrenaline junkies.
Here are the most popular outdoor activities you should consider when visiting the Sacred Valley:
From Cusco, horseback riding tours depart not far from the city’s main plaza and explore the surrounding hills. Bring a camera because you’re guaranteed to see beautiful Andean vistas and lookout panoramic views of Cusco during your ride. Stops may include the archeological sites of Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, the Temple of the Moon, Pucapucara and Tambomachay. (With the exception of the Temple of the Moon, the “Boleto Turistico”:http://www.peruforless.com/travel-guides/cusco-guide.php#The_Boleto_Turistico_del_Cusco is needed to enter these ruins.)
Most horseback riding tours get a morning start and offer guided excursions between 2 to 4 hours long. English-speaking guides are usually available, but it’s a good idea to ask before making final reservations. The sun is strong in the Andean region and the riding terrain around Cusco and into the Sacred Valley has limited tree coverage, so be sure to lather on the sunblock. Sturdy shoes, hat, and sunglasses are recommended. Weather changes quickly at altitude, so pack a rain poncho for a riding excursion during the region’s rainy season to be on the safe side.
Tour companies offer half- and full-day bike excursions suited for any level of experience, with a majority of trails navigating the beautiful scenery of the Sacred Valley between Pisac and Ollantaytambo. There are easy, moderate, or advanced bike paths on dirt and paved trails; difficulty varies depending on experience and fitness level. Attractions along the way may include the Quarries of Cachicata; villages along the banks of the Urubamba River, such as Sillque and Chillca; and sites, such as Moray agricultural terraces and the Maras Salt Mines.
“Mountain biking in and around Cusco”:http://www.peruforless.com/blog/peru-travel-guide-cusco-mountain-biking-tours/ can be enjoyed year-round. The rainy season is spotted with days that experience little or no rainfall, but even on wet days riding on paved routes avoids muddy conditions. Bike tours generally include round-trip transportation to/from hotels, a professional English-speaking guide, and complete equipment (front suspension mountain bike, helmet, and gloves, etc.)
The Urubamba River snakes through the Sacred Valley and offers visitors an excellent opportunity to get a rush of adrenaline with some white water rafting. Independent travelers, groups of friends, and families can choose from a variety of rafting companies that operate tours in the Sacred Valley. Most 1-day rafting excursions will provide a safety briefing before departure, round-trip transport to/from your hotel, and a list of items to bring. Some companies organize longer rafting trips of 2 or 3 days.
_(Photo: Benjamin Dumas/Flickr)_
River rafting is a year-round activity. Rainfall is heaviest from December to early March and the rapids of the Urubamba River can be class IV or higher. During the dry season, between May and September, the water flow is gentler and travelers enjoy good class II and III rapids.
_(Photo: Ana Casteñeda Cano/Peru for Less)_
For travelers unable to do an overnight trekking excursion to Machu Picchu, a great alternative is a 1-day trek around Cusco. These day excursions can be done with or without a guide. Independent trekking gives travelers the flexibility to set their own pace and make their own itinerary; going with a tour company saves travelers the hassle of arranging their own transportation and ensures greater safety and better chance of staying on course in difficult to navigate areas.
Weather permitting, exploring the numerous trails near Cusco is an enjoyable experience anytime of the year. A popular day trek is to “Huchuy Qosqo”:http://www.peruforless.com/packages/trekking-alternative-huchuy-qosqo.php, Inca ruins perched on the hills overlooking the Sacred Valley. This full-day moderate trek begins near the town of Chinchero or Ccorao and trekkers enjoy a slow, zigzagging ascent up a trail surrounded by beautiful vistas to the ruins.
There are literally dozens of 1-day treks throughout the Sacred Valley. Most of the treks include visits to sites and ruins at the valley towns of Chinchero, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Maras, and Moray. Some are more difficult than others involving steady climbs and rough terrain. Whichever day trek your choose, you are bound to discover something spectacular.
Travelers without a fear of heights can enjoy a full and half-day ziplining tour in the Sacred Valley, no prior experience needed. Tour operators generally offer the option to climb a rock face with the via ferrata and then zipline down the mountain. Via ferrata allows climbers to safely ascend a steep mountain face while being attached with a double-carabiner system to a steel-line that follows the route. At the top people can enjoy the view of the Sacred Valley and then harness in for an adrenaline-pumping zipline ride down.
Ziplining tours generally offer transportation, bilingual guides, trained specialists, and a box lunch. All CE certified professional equipment, such as the harness, helmet, via ferreta lanyard, zip-lining set, gloves and helmet, is provided.
You can also pair some ziplining action with an overnight stay in the flight zone of condors some 1,300-feet above the Sacred Valley, at the “Skylodge Adventure Suites”:http://www.peruforless.com/blog/skylodge-adventure-suites-birds-eye-view-sacred-valley/.
Compared to the established climbing routes of Huaraz in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, rock climbing in Cusco is still gaining popularity in the region. For this reason, booking a 1-day outdoor climbing excursion is not as easy as booking a rafting tour. Travelers may hear about a few key spots to sport climb (where the rock has already been bolted) and boulder (no ropes needed), but the trick is getting connected with professionals in the area to discover more climbing spots.
Visiting a local climbing school once you’ve arrived in Cusco is a traveler’s best bet for adding this adventure sport to their trip itinerary. These schools can give helpful instruction for beginners and offer proper equipment. Travelers with their own gear can inquire about accompanying a group from the school on a weekend climb.
_Kathleen McAfee is a writer and editor for Peru for Less. She fell in love with Peru’s culture, the people, the food, and the way of life and now calls Lima her “home away from home”. Interested in a trip to Peru? Contact www.peruforless.com the Peru travel experts._